Alex Blaze

Your religion is stupid

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 14, 2007 7:57 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: baptism, Catholic church, George Romney, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards, Methodists, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Mormon, presidential candidates, religion

The latest dig at Romney's religion came from Mike Huckabee (of course), as reported by the NY Times:

Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

You know what they say about making your bed....

If you're going to say that religion is important in politics, then be ready for people to talk about that religion.

A large part of America's religious pluralism is the divide between public and private life; you can believe whatever you want, just keep it from affecting your job. Since the 70's, though, Republicans and Christian conservatives have sought to break down that barrier, making religious fealty a de facto requirement for high office.

Mitt Romney waded into this water last week when he gave a major speech where he promised to govern religiously and do what he could to oppose secularism, the very concept that helped him become a Mormon governor in a state with a very small Mormon population.

Mike Huckabee has his own spiritual skeletons in his closet, and, as noted by this article from Mother Jones, he's refusing to release his sermons from when he was a Baptist minister, even though he's pretty much running on an "I'm holier than thou" message. Something tells me that he wasn't as, how shall I put this, polished on the subjects of homosexuality and women's equality as he is now.

Well, that, or maybe his sermons were just boring and put people to sleep. Scandal!

Compare this to two other high-ranking Mormon politicians currently and previously on the national stage: Harry Reid and George Romney. Was anyone talking about Reid's Mormonism when he became Senate majority leader and, simultaneously, one of the most powerful Democrats in the country?

And George, Mitt's father, was the governor of Michigan back in the 60's and ran for the GOP nomination in 1968. But his Mormonism wasn't important like Mitt's is today:

"I don't recall ever having been asked about his beliefs or about the Mormon church," says Charles Harmon, the elder Romney's press secretary at the time. Walter DeVries, Romney's chief strategist during the race, never considered his boss's religion a political liability. "I just don't remember it coming up," he notes.

And considering how the question had nothing to do with illegal acts by the White House, I don't think that DeVries is suffering from a case of "Republican Memory Syndrome."

This waffling back and forth on the importance of religion is mostly about controlling one's message, wanting the positive effect of being seen as having integrity and character because one is a "man of faith", but not wanting people to examine just how silly some of your religious principles sound when taken outside of the context of the Church or the church house.

Theological issues in Mormonism were enough to send Lawrence O'Donnell into a tizzy last weekend on "The McLaughlin Group": Mormonism's racist! And founded by a (statutory) rapist! He forgets, of course, how Lot offered up his unmarried daughters to be raped by the city of Sodom or how Protestant Christianity was explicitly used to justify slavery. But details, details.

O'Donnell does have his support in people like Ryan Davis, who asks why Romney never questioned his religion's officially racist stance that Blacks could not be ordained (which changed some years after his mission in 1978). Good question... I mean, we wouldn't want a president who belongs to a religion that promoted intolerance, right?

Then why aren't we asking Hillary Clinton and John Edwards about their Methodism, a branch of Protestantism that declares homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching", pretty much the same sin of exclusion that O'Donnell was accusing the LDS Church of?

What about Rudy Giuliani's and Bill Richardson's Catholicism? When it comes to sexual exploitation, historical racism, and the exclusion of minorities, both sexual and racial (at least when it comes to the Church's most powerful position), the LDS Church has nothing on the Catholic Church.

And what about John McCain's flip-flopping between the Episcopal and Baptist churches? If he can't stand up for one religion, then how will he stand up for one country? (Oh, I think I have him there!)

My point is not that we should be dragging ourselves into a theological debate on the candidates' religions, but that we should instead examine how those religious beliefs inform their politics. It's easy to say that Harry Reid's and Mitt Romney's religion is silly, but, then again, it somehow produced those two, just as Catholicism effects the politics of both Richardson and Giuliani, and Methodism both Edwards and Clinton.

That said, I find it hard to have any sympathy Romney after his recent speech on religion. There isn't freedom without religion? Fine, but just as we have to define "freedom" for that statement to work, we also have to define "religion".

And I still want to see Huck's sermons. What if he was one of those cool preachers known for more than just playing bass and losing weight, but also telling dirty jokes in his sermons?


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Two things - Huckabee's old church says that the copies of his sermons were destroyed somehow. Convenient, eh?

Also, I really liked the reporting done on Huckabee's comment about Jesus and Satan being brothers. The AP called the LDS headquarters and got quite a bit of double-speak. They refused to answer the question of "Does the LDS church believe this?" Instead, they offered a few platitudes about "We're all God's children." A quick check of the Book of Mormon though shows explicitly that they DO think Jesus and Satan were brothers.

Of course, they also think angels gave their founder golden tablets with the Book of Mormon on them that only he could see. And they mysteriously took them away to heaven with them when they left. Now that's good service!

Don't they say you should never discuss religion or politics?

Personally, I don't really care what religion any of the candidates are. I agree with Alex that it only matter insofar as it determines their politics but I think in most cases when that does happen it's simply a matter of using their religion as a convenient excuse as with Guilliani using Catholism as his excuse for him homophobia which has flared up since running for election.

Good post, btw.

Don't they say you should never discuss religion or politics?

Then what would we have left here at Bilerico, vids of dogs skateboarding and essays about funny family members?

What a site!

That's only in polite company, Alex. Do these folks qualify?

Seriously, thank you for writing such thoughtful, intelligent matter. I was very impressed by what you wrote at Pam's House Blend about getting beyond either genetics or choice, and by how constructive the dialogue was that it yielded. That essay led me to this site.

There was an entry at Pam's the other day about this Satan and Jesus thing, but it wasn't explained very well who had said what. At first I got the impression that Huck believed that, and then I re-read it and thought Mitt believed that, but now it seems like Huck was off-handedly saying that Mitt MIGHT believe that, which is different.

Any way you slice it, it's interesting for a couple reasons. Satan and Jesus have always been linked; they're two sides of the same coin. Each thing has its opposite and evil is just a perversion of good, and all that. But the suggestion of them literally and simply being brothers is a new one on me. It's also a very Gnostic idea. Hot-air balloon Harold Bloom has often observed that American religions such as Mormonism and Southern Baptism are a lot like Gnosticism, maybe more like it than Christianity (not that there's just one X-ity). This is a classic instance.

Trouble is, even though ha-satan the "adversary" showed up in the book of Job and elsewhere in the Torah, he wasn't our medieval Devil yet. "Satan" is an ancient Hebrew word, but our concept of Satan as the Serpent developed--wait for it--AFTER CHRIST.

I've still got to say that although it's absurd and thoughtless coming from a campaigning politician, as a writer I find it very chewy speculation. Satan and Jesus brothers, what a story that would make.

More to your point, thanks for the link to the article on the United Methodists. I was not aware that they consider homosexuality incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

I have been rehearsing for a month with a UMC choir for their Christmas program, because my voice teacher told me they needed singers and I wanted to try it. Church has never been my thing, and after going to one of their services to try it, it's still not my thing. I wasn't going to join anyway, I was going to split after Christmas, but this resolves me further and gives me another important reason. One of my best friends is bisexual and is one of the most devoted Christians I have ever met, and I cannot in good conscience belong to an organization that would deny her or others like her, even if there is a large minority agitating for equality within that organization.

I hadn't heard them say anything about it, but now I know. Thanks.

Thanks for joining us here, Ross.

Any way you slice it, it's interesting for a couple reasons. Satan and Jesus have always been linked; they're two sides of the same coin. Each thing has its opposite and evil is just a perversion of good, and all that. But the suggestion of them literally and simply being brothers is a new one on me. It's also a very Gnostic idea. Hot-air balloon Harold Bloom has often observed that American religions such as Mormonism and Southern Baptism are a lot like Gnosticism, maybe more like it than Christianity (not that there's just one X-ity). This is a classic instance.

Yes, yes, but something tells me the "You're with us or against us" sorts don't really think that deeply on the subject.

And that's why I think Huck made that particular comment - saying that they're brothers isn't just inconsistent with what a lot of other Christians believe, it's like saying that Jesus is on the wrong team. Instead of, you know, complexity.

As far as the Methodists are concerned, most Methodists that I've known have been pretty good towards the gays themselves. Maybe I'm just meeting the nice ones, but I think that there's something to the idea that this is all more the fault of the church leadership than it is of the individual believers.

More to your point, thanks for the link to the article on the United Methodists. I was not aware that they consider homosexuality incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

Technically, so do the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and others. I know the liberal wing of the Methodist Church is fighting against statements like that; they may end up splitting like the Episcopalians look bound for.

The Methodists aren't all bad for us though.

"Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation -– Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. We also commit ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former homosexuals." (Social Principles, Par. 66H)

Mormons do believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. And they also believe in magic underpants.

Janis Walters | December 16, 2007 10:22 AM

I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

The Huckster also doesn't know much about foreign policy, civil rights, immigration issues, global warming, domestic affairs, the Constitution, or anything else a presidential candidate should know.

I embarrassingly admit that I received my theological degree from the same seminary that Mike Huckabee did, but I apparently know more about Mormanism and other religions than he does. Maybe he was too focused on studying Homphobia 101.

Janis